2020 and 2021 Hobson Prize Recipients Announced
Chowan University is proud to announce the winners of the 2020 and 2021 Mary Frances Hobson Prize for Distinguished Achievement in Arts and Letters. Due to COVID-19’s landfall last year, a recipient was not named for the prestigious award. Now, the University is pleased to present the 2020 honor to Crystal Wilkinson and this year’s award to Michel Stone.
Started in 1995 by the Hobson Family Foundation of San Francisco, the award stands as a memorial to journalist and poet Mary Frances Hobson (1912-1993), who was the first woman to receive the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award in journalism from the University of North Carolina. The annual event is particularly special as it brings the university and community together each spring to celebrate the accomplishments of an author of the South or one who writes about the South.
2021 Mary Frances Hobson Prize
Photo of Crystal Wilkinson by Paige Phillips
Chowan University is pleased to announce that Michel Stone is the recipient of the 2021 Mary Frances Hobson Prize for Distinguished Achievement in Arts and Letters. In making the announcement, the Hobson Prize Selection Committee noted that Stone’s novels “draw a beautiful and eloquent picture of a young Mexican couple who seek a new life, exposing readers to the long-lasting effects of shame and pride, inclusion and exile, and hope and hopelessness.”
Initiated in 1995 by the Hobson Family Foundation of San Francisco, the award serves as a memorial to Mary Frances Hobson (1912-1993), a journalist and poet, who was the first woman to receive the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award in journalism from the University of North Carolina. The annual event brings the university and community together each spring to celebrate the accomplishments of an author of the South or who writes about the South. The Hobson Prize Conferral and Lecture will be held virtually on Monday, April 12, 2021, at 7:30 p.m.
Michel Stone, a native South Carolinian who now lives in Spartanburg, grew up on Johns Island where she first considered the life of migrant workers. The families who worked on nearby farms three seasons a year seemed exotic to her. As an adult, she became friends with a Mexican couple who had smuggled their baby into the United States. Considering what makes someone willing to risk not only his or her life but that of a child led to her first book, The Iguana Tree. Stone uses fiction is a way to consider large life questions. She writes, “Fiction expands one’s lens and helps us empathize with others whose worldview has been shaped by different circumstances and conventions than our own. The struggles of our fictional characters compel us to turn the page to see how protagonists deal with the blows they’re dealt. Why do we care? Why do their struggles and the way they handle them matter to us? We care because the great themes of humanity when illuminated through story connect us and comfort us. They tell us we are all in this life together, and that each of us because of and in spite of the storms we weather, are undeniably human.”
Her first novel, The Iguana Tree (2012), received much critical acclaim and was selected in a number of cities and colleges as a community read. In 2017, her second novel, Border Child, was released and also garnered high praise. Stone’s writing has been compared favorably to John Steinbeck’s. She is at work on a third novel, this one set in Honduras. A graduate of Clemson University, Stone also has a Master’s degree from Converse College and is an alumna of Sewanee Writers Conference. Among the honors and prizes she’s received are the 2018 Patricia Winn Award for Southern Literature and the South Carolina Fiction Award. She has served as the board chair of the Hub City Writers Project. In addition to her writing, she is an active member of her community, serving on a number of foundations and boards. Stone has been honored with residencies at the Ucross Foundation, the Wildacres Residency Program and the Rowland Writers Retreat. She is also an Ucross Fellow, Spartanburg Regional Fellow, Liberty Fellow, and a Fellow of the Aspen Global Leadership Network.
2020 Mary Frances Hobson Prize
Photo of Crystal Wilkinson by Anastasi Pottinger of Rogue Studios
Chowan University is pleased to announce that Crystal Wilkinson is the recipient of the 2020 Mary Frances Hobson Prize for Distinguished Achievement in Arts and Letters. In making the announcement, the Hobson Prize Selection Committee noted, “the language in Wilkinson’s The Birds of Opulence seems to have a life of its own, quiet, moving, and inspirational. Its vibrancy and warmth captivates and mesmerizes the reader, bringing to fore the great depth in the simplicity of the story and the beautiful and ever-present foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.”
Initiated in 1995 by the Hobson Family Foundation of San Francisco, the award serves as a memorial to Mary Frances Hobson (1912-1993), a journalist and poet, who was the first woman to receive the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award in journalism from the University of North Carolina. The annual event brings the university and community together each spring to celebrate the accomplishments of an author of the South or who writes about the South. The Hobson Prize Conferral and Lecture will be held virtually on Wednesday, April 21, 2021, at 7:30 p.m.
Born in Ohio in 1962, Crystal Wilkinson was reared from infancy by her grandparents on their farm in the hills of rural Kentucky, a place which provided deep nourishment for her imagination and creativity. She earned her B.A. in journalism from Eastern Kentucky University and went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Spaulding University. She has received wide recognition for her talent. Most recently, the award-winning author of a novel, short story collections, poems, and essays, Wilkinson was named a 2020 USA Fellow by the United States Artists, a prestigious group which recognizes artists who make significant and vital contributions to the nation’s “creative ecosystem.” She said, “I tell my creative writing students all the time that we are the truth keepers of our time. That is our duty as artists—to reflect both how the world is and how we want it to be. Without the artist we are lost—-devoid of hope and the capacity to dream a new way of understanding and living. What we do is absolutely life-giving. So many lives have been saved by art.”
Blackberries, Blackberries, Wilkinson’s first short story collection, won many awards including the 2002 Paul and Lillie D. Chaffin Award for Appalachian Literature and Today’s Librarian magazine’s Best Debut Fiction award in 2001. Her second collection of short stories, Water Street, also garnered many honors including earning a spot as a longlist finalist for the Orange Prize for Fiction and shortlist finalist for The Hurst-Wright Legacy Award. Wilkinson won the 2016 Ernest J. Gaines Prize for Literary Excellence for her first novel, The Birds of Opulence. The novel has additionally won the 2017 Judy Gaines Young Book Award, the 2016 Weatherford Award for Appalachian Fiction, and the Appalachian Book of the Year in Fiction for 2016. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and her writing appears in many esteemed publications including Oxford American and Southern Cultures. Looking forward, Wilkinson will have a new book, Perfect Black, published in summer 2021. Wilkinson has received the Sally Bingham Award from the Kentucky Foundation for Women for her “promotion of activism and feminist artist expression.”
Additionally, Wilkinson has been recognized with awards and fellowships from the Yaddo Foundation, the Vermont Studio Center for the Arts, the Kentucky Foundation for Women, the Kentucky Arts Council among others. Wilkinson is an associate professor at the University of Kentucky where she teaches in the MFA in Creative Writing Program.